Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Back When A Switzerland-like Tram Thrill Ride Permeated Provo Canyon .

By Lynn Arave

THE younger generation may never know the thrill that was the exotic taste of Switzerland in Provo Canyon.
For nearly 50 years, a tram line rose sharply to the top of Provo Canyon, passing Bridal Veil Falls and offering incredible views of the area.
Yes, there are other tram lines, like the one at Snowbird in Little Cottonwood Canyon, but this old tramway, "The Sky Ride," was unique.
It boasted 4 superlatives:

1. It was the steepest tram line in the world, rising 1,228 vertical feet in just 1,753 feet of cable. (Some people would not ride it, as it looked so unrealistically steep. Others would crawl out of the tram on top, scared out of their wits ...)
2. It was the only tram that sat right next to a major U.S. highway.
3. It was the only U.S. tram that passed by a major waterfall.
4. It was the only U.S. tram that had a river running directly below it and feet from it starting point. 
The Provo Canyon Tram had become a resort and last operated on New Year's Day of 1996.
The tram line had opened in 1961 and climbed as sharply as 66 degrees. During its seasonal operation (May-October), it would carry almost 30,000 riders a season to the top.
The demise of the tram line was this:
An avalanche greatly damaged the tram's equipment on that fateful New Year's Day in 1996. 

Then, just over two years later, as the owners -- the Grow Family -- were working to restore the tram, a man-made fire, likely arson, damaged the cable line and other equipment.
There used to be a restaurant on top of the tram, later a special event venue for weddings, reunions, etc. ("Eagle's Nest Lodge).
The Grows were stopped re-opening after the Jan, 1, 1996 avalanche, by a $100,000 environmental study required by the Forest Service.
Then, the fire struck the next year.

Not long after the fire, the Grows had to have the cable lines taken down for safety reasons ... so it appears the flavor of Switzerland in Provo Canyon is over.
Even a 2007-2008 plan to re-open it failed.
The Grows, of Orem, had owned the tram resort since 1971. Rue L. Clegg bought the land in 1936 and opened it with the Tram in 1961. He died of a heart attack in 1963 and his wife took over the business before selling it 8 years later to the Grows.

-I rode the tram at least three times, all in the 1980s.
I had hoped to finally take all 4 of my children on the tram too in the late 1990s, but the avalanche and fire halted that plan.
The tram had weathered avalanches before. In the summer of 1983, for example, I wanted to hike from the top of the tram to a viewpoint at the top of Provo Canyon. However, that record snowfall winter prior had wiped out that path.
The accompanying photos are all pictures I took of the Tramway, likely in 1983.
Since that Tramway, I've ridden the Hell's Gate Tram in British Columbia and the Banff National Park Tram in Canada too.
Plus, Snowbird's Tram and other U.S. Trams. However, none were as thrillingly steep at the Provo Tram was.
It was also so easily accessible and reasonable in price too, as I recall.
Also, more frightening than the tram ride to me was an equipment worker who died after driving a bulldozer over the cliff above the tram during its mid-1960s construction process.

-UPDATE, spring 2017: All leftover tram ride materials and mountain top building are being torn out, to return the area to its original state. Soon, all traces of it will be gone.


  1. Great info, thanks for sharing!

  2. That is great stuff. The builder and designer was Paul Hunziker. A Swiss lift and Tram builder that was ahead of his time.

  3. So many fond memories of Bridal Veil Falls and the tram when I was at BYU. The restaurant and the dances and parties I attended. I am saddened to read of its no longer there.

  4. I road that Tram Way way way back in 1976 to a BYU Church Branch non date even. Great little place back then. Thanks for the history of this Tram and Resturant. Been there and done it.